Defending or Denouncing the 'Dog Eats Dog': A Guide to Your Competitive Side

'We all have pressures, but you know how I deal with it? The natural way, with a rigorous diet and exercise routine. I'm up at 6:00 AM every day, I have my protein shake with banana and flaxseed oil, and by 6:10 I'm on the elliptical. Do you know I am motivate myself? Not with anything artificial- I set a goal and I won't rest until I reach it.'

-Rachel Berry, Glee

Let me first start by saying that I'm sorry this isn't an article about the Provo, Utah dating scene. THAT tell-all will be posted here next Wednesday- promise. I held a poll on my Instagram story regarding the subject of my first actual blog post, and I think it ended up being 56% in favor of 'Provo Dating' over an article about competition. As I sit here in Starbucks, though, on hour three of trying to craft the perfect, juicy dating tell-all (without mentioning real names, of course) I realize that I just don't want to write about RM pursuits, spooky first date horrors, and the self-proclaimed Provo Dating Spectrum (PDS) I've come up with over the last four years. Stay tuned for all that next week, though.

This week is the perfect time for me to get out all the inevitable word vomit I need to regarding my cursed competitive nature, which has  been keeping me up at night for the last few days. You see, in situations of pressure, I've learned that it can all come down to which circle you fall into. Some people fall into first circle, in which they turn extremely introverted and reserved. The second circle inhabitants are very present and in-the-moment, and the third circle humans turn inside-out, becoming loud, commanding, and, well, extra. Wild guess as to which I fall into in situations of pressure and stress? I fuse into a non-fictional version Rachel Berry, which even makes me feel a little squirmy sometimes. Rachel Berry is a lot for anyone to handle, especially in a theater environment. 

The plus-side of third circle is that I immediately rise to the occasion. I become a superhuman version of myself, forgetting all of my inhibitions, forgetting my environment, and forgetting all the people around me. I ace the audition. I come out successful when the test is through. I can whip out a ten page essay in, like, an hour. And it's GOOD. In situations of pressure or a test of my strength and ability, third circle comes through for me when I need it. 

The negative repercussions of third circle can bite you, though. I forget all my inhibitions. I forget my environment. I forget all the people around me. 

Problematic at times, one might say. I've had arguments with friends because of the opposite ways we handle situations of pressure- my best friend will be quietly sucked into first while I loudly announce my entry into third. And we fight, and we cry, and we try to see each other's valid points of view. We end up loving each other more on the flip side of the debate, though, because we have greater appreciations and understandings of how we each work and the ways we personally each succeed. It's wonderful. It's necessary.

My undesirable competitive streak is a side-effect to my competitive nature and is waiting for me, at times, in third circle when I feel unsure or nervous for a performance or audition. My competitive streak is the weight gain to the birth control, the inevitable nausea that follows the antibiotic, and long-term cotton mouth to the Accutane. It just happens, and users of these medications learn to know what to expect. But, that doesn't mean you can't take action against the undesirable.

In full disclosure, I must tell you about the last year of my life. To make a long, incredibly frustrating and emotional story short, I went on Prednisone because I was struggling with a specific register in my voice. My high 'E' wasn't sounding perfect, so I went to urgent care and asked them to put me on a steroid. I didn't bother to learn about potential side effects until they started manifesting. Without going into too much detail, I will say that I did endure pretty nasty side effects of Prednisone for a whole 12 months after I stopped them. My stress hormones went bonkers, emotions were a bit unpredictable, and general sadness was at an all-time high. I consider it to be one of the biggest trials I've faced. I suffered for the a huge portion of 2017, all because I wanted my voice to sound absolutely perfect, probably for an audition I had coming up. I needed to be my absolute best. I needed to live up to expectation, reputation, and my resume. 

As artists, we fall into that trap so. many. times. So much of this business is made up of beautiful, unique actors and singers and dancers just trying to be their best self each day and earn success from it. Reputation often precedes us, though, so we must live up to it. That's why you see us crazy-dieting so we don't have to lie on the resume, stretching ourselves to keep the battement in-check, and picking up absolutely random, laughable 'special skills'... just to stay relevant. Just to continue to be the best 'ourselves' we can be. 

As I sat in Starbucks today writing about these trials, I must tell you that I am only now comfortable sharing because I finally understand a simple truth: In our weaknesses, we are made STRONG. I felt the push to share some of these stories with you. I am more resilient than ever because I've recognized a part in myself that every human (especially artists) face at numerous times in life. And for that part of myself, and my courage to face it head on, I am beautiful and relevant and phenomenal. I am reminded of how lucky I am to realize how silly I have gotten in the past about trying to keep the completely uncontrollable, controllable. I've lost many a night's sleep due to unnecessary worry and planning- often times for one, thirty-second audition that I had to just be 'perfect Ellie Smith' for. 

Thank God for the lessons that we learn, even when they hit you way too hard. Thank God for journaling, evening yoga, and personal discovery. I've freaked myself out so many times in the past four years of my college career. Freshman year was particularly the hardest, because my ugly competitive streak would come out pretty darn often. I had to ask the most questions in my Intro to the LDS Faith class. I had to one-up everyone with my essays in my freshman year writing class. Somehow, in any way, I had to let every person I came across know I meant business. Freshman year was a tremendous growing opportunity I didn't even know I needed at the time.

I speak of all these silly memories and instances now, four years later, because I can confirm I have become a new person. And I am so proud of that. By growing into myself, my competitive nature, and simply becoming more sure of who I am as a perfectly imperfect human being, I successfully keep my ugly side of competition at bay in situations of trial and tension. More importantly, I let my ability to thrive in stressful situations (and in third circle) be potentially helpful to the people around me. It's crucial to be supportive and to create supportive environments for the people you come across in the audition waiting room, the practice rooms, and beyond. And if I've learned anything, I can see now that my Rachel Berry-isms come out of moments where I don't actually feel as sure of myself- NOT because I feel cool and confident enough to be super extra. Four years later, I'm more far more Ellie Smith on a daily basis than Ellie Smith-Berry, and I wouldn't trade my lessons learned, times of failure, and rough years like 2017- for the world. And let's be honest- finding success and happiness in yourself as a person is all that matters at the end of the day- NOT the roles you do or don't book because of the high 'E' you nailed or didn't quite nail.

I leave you with the most important college takeaway that I've been lucky enough to learn at Brigham Young University: I found the most effective and empowering thing you can do for yourself is to be alright with the flaws- acknowledge them, accept them, and work on what is changeable in order to be a better human and a better follower of Christ. And if you’re feeling inadequate, imperfect, or insecure, get your mind off of yourself. Quickly. Go cheer your friends on. Go cheer your non-friends on. Go cheer complete strangers on. A little encouragement in trying times can mean the world to someone. 

Have you ever noticed a specific side of yourself that comes out in times of high pressure or stress? Email me. Let's chat. I'd love to listen.

Thanks for reading this. I love you guys.

*This post has been edited with some advice from my parents. I love you, Dad and Mom. Thanks for keeping me the best Ellie I can be, and supporting my sharing of myself to the world each and every day, in numerously different ways. 


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